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Potter’ a chalice of malice

Tae Andrews | Friday, March 10, 2006

Dust off those spellbooks and pick up those wands – school is back in session. Returning to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for a fourth year, the DVD release of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” marks the latest installment of the boy wizard’s adventures.

Just as each year at Hogwarts opens with a new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor, as of late the directing chore on the Harry Potter franchise has become a game of musical chairs.

Not to be confused with the trans-Atlantic explorer by the same name, director Chris Columbus helmed the first two films in the series, “Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” Columbus proved himself a wizard in his ability to translate the literary magic of J.K. Rowling to the silver screen.

Director Alfonso Cuarón was brought in to direct the third film, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” as the series took a turn for the darker. While “Azkaban” met with critical and commercial success, newcomer Mike Newell was given the keys to direct “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” With so much turnover at the position, each new “Harry Potter” director was faced with the opportunity to leave his indelible mark on the series – or drive it into the ground.

Not to worry, Potter-heads – Newell doesn’t drop the Quaffle here. “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” sees Hogwarts host the Tri-Wizard Tournament, a competition between champions from Hogwarts and the rival magic schools of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang.

After all of the students enter their names for a chance to compete in the Tournament, the Goblet of Fire selects three names for the Tournament – Cedric Diggory, Fleur Delacoeur and Viktor Krum. However, the Goblet of Fire turns out to be a chalice of malice, as it spits out an unprecedented fourth name for the Tournament – Harry Potter. Questions of magical foul play notwithstanding, Potter enters the Tri-Wizard Tournament.

The competition is fierce. In the first challenge, Harry is required to steal a golden egg from the nest of a dragon, with a Hungarian Horntail quite literally breathing fire down his neck. Harry also faces stiff competition from his rival champions in the tournaments, especially Viktor Krum.

Described as “the best Seeker in the world,” Krum looks and plays a lot like Irish safety Tom Zbikowski – if he had taken up Quidditch instead of football. Fortunately for both the health of Quidditch players everywhere and Notre Dame’s secondary, Zbikowski was kept away from broomsticks as a child and gravitated towards the pigskin instead.

Already the star player of the Bulgarian national team in the Quidditch World Cup, Krum gives new meaning to the term “player in the major leagues” when he succeeds in asking Hermione out to an inter-school dance.

As the fourth film in the series, the kids of “Goblet of Fire” are definitely starting to grow up. In fact, Harry, Ron and Hermione fall under a spell no amount of wand-waving can cure – the magic of love. After seeing the dazzling Hermione with Krum at the dance, Ron is struck with jealousy, starting turbulent times and rocky romance between Ron and the bookworm -turned-bombshell. Given that actress Emma Watson is only 15 years old, many of the over-18 wizards in the audience would do well to utter “Wingardium Leviosa!” and levitate their jaws off the floor, or else run the risk of ending up in the wizard prison of Azkaban.

In addition to Watson, Daniel Radcliffe again turns in a fine performance as the lightning-scarred Harry Potter, and Rupert Grint is similarly good as Ron. Also, Ralph Fiennes is excellent as the evil Lord Voldemort. Despite playing a character who goes by the moniker He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Fiennes deserves some recognition for his portrayal of the Dark Lord.

“The Goblet of Fire” DVD is available as a one-disc option with just the movie or as a two-disc set with special features. Special features include additional scenes, conversations with the actors and features focusing on each part of the Tri-Wizard Tournament.

Mike Newell does a good job as the film’s director. While it has an episodic feel, and some of the transitions between scenes are weak, Newell was faced with the unenviable task of dropping J.K. Rowlings’ 752-page tome into a witch’s cauldron and distilling a film out of it.

Although “Goblet” still runs a butt- numbing 157 minutes, the movie doesn’t drag due to Newell’s use of computer-generated imagery, which creates a visual experience that can only be described as spellbinding.

All things considered, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” is a solid effort worthy of a toast.